Simone Schwarz-Bart is an internationally known writer in the company of Guadeloupean novelists Maryse Condé and Myriam Warner-Vieyra. Born in 1938 in the French West Indies to a teacher and military man, Schwarz-Bart studied in Pointe-á-Pitre, Paris and Dakar. Her four novels have each achieved laudatory reviews in The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Times, Présence Africaine, Figaro Littéraire, The French Review, Savacou, Nouvelle Revue Française, The New Yorker, and many others in the United States and abroad. Her oeuvre lucidly narrates the harsh realities Caribbean women endure in the clutches of slavery and colonization. Publication of her six-volume work, Hommage à la Femme Noire (In Praise of Women of Color) in 1989, testifies to her lifelong commitment to unearthing the unknown history and culture of black women of the diaspora. In her lifetime, Schwarz-Bart has lived in France, Africa, and Switzerland. She currently resides in both Lausanne, France and Guadeloupe.
The Schwarz-Bart Partnership
When she was eighteen and a student in Paris, Simone met writer André Schwarz-Bart. They married in 1961 and, two years later, he won the Prix Goncourt for Le Dernier Des Justes (The Last of the Just). A Polish Jew, André Schwarz-Bart lost both of his parents during the Holocaust. The Last of the Just charts the history of one Jewish family since the year 1000. Both deeply politically committed, the couple began a stunning creative collaboration which resulted in two first-class historical novels, Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes (A Plate of Pork With Green Bananas) and La Mulâtresse Solitude (A Woman Named Solitude). Well-received by critics, A Plate of Pork with Green Bananas recounts a Martinican woman’s alienation from French society and her search for her lost Caribbean identity. Elderly and disabled, Mariotte spends her final days in a Paris asylum for the aged as she revisits her past.
In their second collaboration, the couple continue to revisit history from the perspective of a woman of color. Reconstructing the events of one slave woman’s existence in the late eighteenth century, La Mulâtresse Solitude portrays Solitude’s disturbing encounters during colonial slavery in Guadeloupe. Critics often attribute full authorship of this novel to André Schwarz-Bart, not always giving equal credit to Simone. In her essay on La Mulâtresse Solitude, Charlotte Bruner acknowledges this collaboration as she points to the work’s publication history. In its publicity, Simone is mentioned as a collaborator who is part of the couple’s shared purpose of “telling the history of Guadeloupe in a cycle of novels of historic reconstruction.” However, the Seuil edition names only her husband. When it was translated into English the year of its original publication, Simone finally attained credit as co-author. Simone is further attributed credit in Donald Herdeck’s Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographic Critical Encyclopedia. Mention of the joint authorship of Solitude also appears in Le Dernier des Justes, in the list of André Schwarz-Bart’s forthcoming works. The publisher note reads “in collaboration with his wife, Simone, André Schwarz-Bart has embarked on publication of a sequel in the form of a novel” (Bruner 238). To date, no studies exist which consider the Schwarz-Bart partnership in depth.
In her later novels and one-act play, Ton Bon Capitaine (Your Handsome Captain), Schwarz-Bart weaves the multiple locations and languages of her heritage as she constructs a matrilineal narrative of Guadeloupean women’s identities. Publishing widely beyond the two novels she and her husband composed together, her first solo act, when it first appeared in 1972, enjoyed critical acclaim and was later translated into twelve languages. The story of three generations of Guadeloupean women, Pluie et Vent sur Telumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond), is hailed by critics for its lyrical examination of exile as it doubly impacts the lives of West Indian women. Her fourth novel, Ti Jean L’Horizon (Between Two Worlds), fuses magical realism with science fiction in its depiction of a legendary Guadeloupean folk hero. As with all of her fiction, her play Ton Beau Capitaine dramatizes the unyielding trauma of exile and the subtleties of patriarchal domination. Inspired by her grandmother’s wisdom and integrity, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s unforgettable women characters use the power of expression to combat the abuses of racial and sexual domination.
- Schwarz-Bart, Simone. “An Author’s Perspective on Her Own Creation: Reflections of Simone Schwarz-Bart on Her Novel Pluie et Vent Sur Télumée Miracle.” BIM 18. 71 (December 1987): 27-35.
- —. Hommage à la Femme Noire (In Praise of Women of Color). Paris: Éditions Consulaires, 1989.
- —. La Mulâtresse Solitude (A Woman Named Solitude). Paris: Seuil, 1972.
- —. Pluie et Vent sur Télumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1972.
- —. Ti Jean L’Horizon (Between Two Worlds). Paris: Seuil, 1979.
- —. Ton Beau Capitaine (Your Handsome Captain). Paris: Seuil, 1987.
- —. Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes (A Plate of Pork With Green Bananas). Paris: Seuil, 1967.
- Bruner, Charlotte. “A Caribbean Madness: Half Slave and Half Free.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 11.2 (1984): 236-48.
- Busia, Abena P.A. “This Gift of Metaphor: Symbolic Strategies and the Triumph of Survival in Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge of Beyond.” Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Eds. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido. Lawrenceville, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990. 289-301.
- Black Literature Criticism Supplement. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999.
- Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from “Contemporary Authors.” Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.
- Herdeck, Donald, ed. Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia. Washington: Three Continents Press, 1979.
- Karamcheti, Indira. “The Geographics of Marginality: Place and Textuality in Simone Schwarz-Bart and Anita Desai.” Feminist Explorations of Literary Space. Eds. Margaret R. Higonnet and Joan Templeton. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. 125-146.
- McKinney, Kitzie. “Memory, Voice, and Metaphor in the Works of Simone Schwarz-Bart.” Postcolonial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers. Eds. Mary Jean Green, Karen Gould, Micheline Rice-Maximin, Keith L. Walker, and Jack A. Yeager. Minneapolis/ London: University Minnesota Press, 1996. 22-41.
- Robinson, Lillian. Modern Women Writers. NY: Continuum, 1996.
Author: Michelle Hunter, Spring 2000
Last edited: June 2012Tags: Caribbean, Diaspora, Drama, France, Gender, Race, West Indies